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Archive for the ‘other sides to this life’ Category

It’s the 14th of July, Bastille Day–La Fête Nationale, celebrating the day the notorious prison La Bastille in Paris, was stormed and destroyed, in July 1789.

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The fall of the Bastille, symbolizes the start of the French Revolution, which led to the killing of the king–Louis the XVI and the end of the ancient regime (old order).

Shortly after, on 4th August, feudalism was abolished and on 26th August 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man was proclaimed.

Momentous stuff–allez les Bleus!

Things were a good deal less momentous here this morning!

The distant whizz-bangs from the fireworks in Lautrec late Saturday evening and the sounds of one side’s ecstatic celebrations in Rio de Janeiro last night have given way to blessed silence.

Just the cooing of a dove and the chirps of birds telling each other about our bird feeder.

The supermarkets are closed (Sundays too–a new edict from the Prefet of the Tarn, our department) and there’s no post.

Visitors are always puzzled, often dismayed and sometimes angered about the eccentricities, as they see it, of commercial opening hours here.

There are four rush hours on normal weekdays as people take off at midday for lunch, chez eux (at home).

The Tour de France–the jauntiness of the logo below belies the task they face today…

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is in the mountains of the Vosges, close to the German border, for a second day–just a few ups and downs!

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A Frenchman hasn’t won the tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985–an astonishing and damning statistic.

Wearing the yellow jersey (maillot jaune) today, which denotes the leader, is Tony Gallopin, a Frenchman.

French pride restored, if only for a day–but the biggest day in the French calendar.

I shall be urging them on from the comfort of the sofa; in awe at another day of agony suffered by the riders in this epic of athletic endurance.

Allez tout le monde!

 

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Harry–whose mother, the renown Mrs.Tiggy-Winkle, told him not to worry–

“You have a way with you, Harry” she said  “doors will always open for you–you’re a lucky one….’

CAME BACK last night!

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Meredith was in the kitchen, taking a late phone call; I was in bed reading about the causes of the First World War!

We’d closed up for the night–all the doors to the house were shut.

She heard a noise over by the cat bowls. “Someone is having late night snack,” she thought.

Not one of the cats though–the young ones were outside, Pippa up on the bed with me.

“Crunch, crunch…”

She couldn’t quite see the bowl from where she was sitting, so she got up, phone in hand and there–cool as you like–was a hedgehog, tucking into the cat food.

They looked at each other in a shared moment of disbelief–before he dodged round the corner into the larder.

She explained the situation to the friend on the phone:

“You won’t believe this but there’s another hedgehog in the house!”

Then shot upstairs to tell me the tale.

“Where is it now?”

“In the larder–we’ll have to get it out of there!”

“Is it Harry?”

“I’m not sure.”

No escape, I thought, put my book aside and rolled out of bed.

There he was–in the corner–protected by a roasting rack, as far away as he could get.

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Curled up into a tight ball, he looked smaller than Harry.

Was it another member of the intrepid Tiggy-Winkle family, “chancing its arm”?

We cleared the cluttered space and Meredith gently managed to grasp him, protected by a pair of tough gardening gloves.

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Two days ago, while Harry was still in the flying basket, before he scuttled back to Mum, Meredith had dabbed a spot of pink nail varnish on the tip of some of his spikes, to identify him should he return.

“Look, Rob–there’s the pink mark!”

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Hard to see at first but there it was.

We felt like a pair of nature conservationists!

It was Harry–the first hedgehog to fly in the history of the world!

Clearly emboldened by his first adventure and apparently finding that door open again, he may have thought, “Well, the worst that can happen to me is I get to fly a second time. Here goes!”

Meredith gently carried him outside and left him to find his bearings next to a bowl of cat food…and prepare another explanation for a worried Mother Tiggy-Winkle.

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Now Harry–this has got to stop!

 

 

 

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A Tale from Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle of the Tarn

–with apologies to B. Potter!

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It was when she was about to iron Harry’s shirt–a day or two ago now, even three–that Mrs Tiggy-Winkle had a thought.

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“Where is Harry for that matter–haven’t set eyes on him for–well, a day or two now.

He’s always off somewhere–it’s a worry, but he usually comes back by dinner time!”

Harry’s hunger for adventure has its limitations.

What did he say?

“Ma–you know you always say–‘Harry, no need to worry about your future, you have a way with you; doors will always open for you–you’re a lucky one–I feel it in my water, you’ll fall in the butter dish, my boy, mark my words–you will!’

Well, today’s the day, Ma–I’ve spotted a door and it’s open…

And we know that Harry’s was telling the truth about the open door, because a day or two ago–even three, we started finding “EVIDENCE” of an additional presence in the house.

We’d grown accustomed to finding “evidence” these past few weeks to be sure, but always OUTSIDE the house; now this “evidence” was appearing INSIDE!

I found some on the floor of the larder–Meredith found some around the cats’ feeding bowls.

It took a moment for the penny to drop (or tuppence in this case!).

Then we looked at each other…

“There’s a HEDGEHOG in the house!”

But where?

Finding a hedgehog in hiding is only marginally easier than finding a needle in a haystack.

Concealment is their business–they’re professionals and even to a youngster like Harry, it’s second nature.

“I’ll look in the pile of firewood,” says Meredith unconvincingly and heads for the dining room.

No luck–but more “evidence”.

There’s hope though.

A late spring cleaning is seriously underway and tables and chairs are piled high with STUFF, reducing the places of safety for hedgehogs–in search of a quiet nook.

“Rob, Rob come here–QUICK!!”

Meredith’s voice is coming from outside the front door.

There, in a shopping basket that had been parked on the front hall floor, is Harry–just visible under a light cotton shopping bag, his cover blown, his singular adventure at an end–surrounded by “evidence”.  (How LONG has he been in residence??)

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Meredith thinks to lift him out with a pair of oven gloves.

“No! no!”  I cry, “in the basket–carry him in the basket round the corner, next to the woodpile near where they come from to eat in the evenings.”

A short flight but an historic one, through the gate and round the corner–one can’t be sure but maybe it’s the first recorded flight by a hedgehog in the history of the world!

Meredith gently lands the basket with Ben overseeing the operation.

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…and eating the cat food meant to entice Harry out of his basket home!

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After a deal of sniffing round the rim and peeking over the top Harry finds  a way out and scuttles off back to Mum!

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Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle wasn’t far wrong–things fall out well for Harry–he even got to fly!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Winston garlanded with the twelve books of Poldark

Winston Graham would have been 106 today. Hard to believe he died 11 years ago.

His writing lives on and is again a source of joy as well as–in this case–employment!

The filming of the new series of POLDARK is nearing the halfway point and interest is building.

(I still have a second scene to do and am causing some hilarity in Castres market with my mutton chops and straggly hair.)

He wrote Ross Poldark, the first in the saga, in 1945 when he was 37.

He finished the twelfth and last book, Bella Poldark, in 2002 at the age of 92!

This last tells the story of Ross and Demelza’s youngest child who becomes an actress–and with whom I’m sure Winston fell in love–as he’d done with Demelza, 11 books earlier–history repeating itself!

There is PASSION in the Poldark saga from the first book to the last. He loved and felt a loyalty to his characters–and this he passed on to his readers.

The books will be given another lease of life when the new version is shown next year–and this is just.

He was a supremely talented story teller.

Thanks Winston,  and many happy returns!!

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When we moved here permanently fifteen years ago this July (is it that long ago?!) friends used to say with a degree of disbelief edged with irritation: “Oh don’t be silly! what’ll  you  do there?

I can’t remember answering: “we are going to rear hedgehogs!“–although I might have felt like saying that.

Now it appears that–is exactly what we are doing.

We have a family of them living in the woodpile–at least that’s the direction from which they come.

As dusk falls–about 9.45pm at present–we can be sitting round the table at the back–often with company–when we sense a presence and turning slowly behold a small creature making its way forward, apparently unaware that he or she is not alone.

Suddenly we come into ear or eyeshot and it stops, frozen, sometimes for more than a minute, before deciding that LATER would be wiser–and scuttling off, keeping close to the wall.

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This excursion isn’t an idle evening stroll–it’s feeding time for hungry hedgehogs–in the know.

There are always an assortment of half empty cat bowls with leftovers, waiting to be polished off.

Some evenings when a bowl is partially hidden we will hear a faint munching sound.

Harrumph, harrumph, harrumph“–feeding time in full swing.

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The cats–well fed by this time–look on with puzzled interest.

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What is it? This spiky ball with its snout in our trough? 

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Leave well alone–don’t go there–live and let live?

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Last year in a BBC poll to find an animal to play the part of National Animal Treasure, the hedgehog was a runaway (scuttle away, more like) winner.

The British love reluctant heroes and Mrs Tiggywinkle (Beatrice Potter’s invention) fits the bill–shunning the limelight and keeping herself to herself.

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Mrs Tiggy snoozing behind a mat masquerading as a hedgehog!

I’m in favor of hedgehogs–the world needs more of them and too many of the poor creatures end up as roadkill.

If we are inadvertently responsible for nurturing a family or two–I reckon that’s a good enough reason to move to France!

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Go Tiggywinkles!

Hints on helping hedgehogs thrive.

 

 

 

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Jerome Carayol has a small stand at Lautrec market on Fridays selling garlic, eggs and the odd duck and chicken–his mother supplies the pigeons.

He tells me this morning, picking three garlic bulbs from a small pile as a gift, that he’ll begin lifting his pink garlic  (l’ail rose de Lautrec) tomorrow or Monday.

For the last three weeks, starting early before the sun gets a hold, small teams–mainly youngsters–are employed in the fields working slowly along the rows of garlic, picking the scopes (the stem that develop into a flower) off the top of each plant.

Back-breaking work–but necessary to allow the plant to concentrate its final surge of energy on the bulb.

Now the farmers are beginning the harvest.

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Garlic gath’rers pass,

Leaving the scent in the air;  

It’s that time again.

Judy Bach asked for recipes on Facebook.

Here’s one, adapted from Skye Gyngell’s version in her book,  How I Cook :

New season courgettes, cooked slow with the new garlic and mint–mushily delicious with a little kick from the chili.

This is  for 4 

1 lb courgettes/zucchini--sliced thin

garlic cloves–sliced thin

1 small dried red chili–chopped

a handful of mint (if you have it)-chopped

salt and pepper

1 tblsp olive oil

  • In a medium pan, gently soften the garlic and chili in the oil.

  • Add the sliced courgettes/zucchini and turn them over in the oil to coat them thoroughly.
  • Season generously with salt and pepper.
  • Turn again to distribute the seasoning.
  • Cover the pan and cook for forty minutes on a very low heat.
  • Uncover and fold in the mint, if you have it–which we have, but I forgot it!
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Looks better with the mint!

 

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“Supper?”

“Sorted–it’s in the bag!”

It’s a while since I have cooked salmon this way.

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Can’t think why.

And it’s a cinch for busy people who come home tired from work.

The whoosh of scented steam as the parcel is unwrapped is an added treat–but watch your nose doesn’t get scalded!

The red peppercorns add to the beauty of the dish–are crunchy soft–and disintegrate when bitten into.

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This is adapted from a recipe in Jenny Baker’s comprehensive Simply Fish.

for 2

2 salmon fillets–about 170gms each

2 tsp red peppercorns–optional

1 lemon

fresh herbs such as dill, tarragon, mint

olive oil

salt and pepper

2 large pieces of foil of equal size–large enough to envelop the salmon pieces and leave them enough space to “breath”

Preheat the oven to 200c/400F

  • Lay the two large pieces of foil on a flat surface.
  • Lay a salmon fillet on each piece of foil and season well with salt and pepper.
  • Drizzle some olive oil over each fillet.
  • Sprinkle a teaspoonful of the red peppercorns on each fillet.
  • Slice off 4 thin slices from the lemon and place them–two/three–on each fillet.
  • Squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon over the fillets and add the herbs you favor.

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I’ve used fresh tarragon and dill here.

  • Wrap up the parcels–leaving that breathing space for the steam to do its work cooking the fillets.

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  • Place them on an oven tray and slide into the middle of the oven for about fifteen minutes.
  • The cooking time depends on the size of the fillets–take a peek after 15 minutes.

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  • This got a “ding” from Meredith, who liked the taste the red peppercorns.
  • We had brown basmati rice with a sauce of tomato and courgette slices (1 large tomato and 1 courgette) spooned over and  tzatziki sauce (yogurt and cucumber), on the side.
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We’ve been busy and–one thing and another–routine such as it is here, day to day, has gone out the window.

There’s something to be said for routine, for a bit of structure.

I managed a walk this morning, the first since we got back from Normandy and it felt good.

Routinely, I try to walk every other day, ideally in the early morning–certainly in summer when it’s too hot by 10am.

I come back, the day’s ahead and a walk’s in the bag–a good feeling.

A bit of routine.

At 11.15–(it was cloudy and the wind was fresh)–I found myself out on the road.

Walking sets more than your legs in motion–the steady rhythm starts the mind turning over, popping stuff into your head–offering up ideas and solutions.

I’d got today’s lunch sorted yesterday–I thought; the left over spinach and rice torte and salad.

Then Meredith came back from the annual vide grenier (attic clearing sale) in Lautrec with scrambled eggs on her mind for breakfast–oh dear, there are four eggs in the torte!

Too bad I thought.

Then after ten minutes on the road, the sun came out and the mussels I bought for lunch yesterday floated into my thoughts.

(I’d forgotten they were in the fridge–I’d changed my mind about them when the weather got cooler.)

I was back home by noon–plenty of time.

The torte’ll keep ’til tomorrow!

Must remember it’s in the fridge though…

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whoopee–on the road again!

 

 

 

 

 

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Meredith and I made two visits to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach before Friday’s D-Day commemoration.

On Wednesday 4th she had arranged to meet an old high school classmate who was in charge of NBC TV’s coverage of the D-Day Ceremony.

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Ex-New Trier classmates re-unite: Meredith with Bob Epstein, Special Events, NBC News

The following day we returned to hear John Morris, a founding member of Magnum photo agencydeliver a short speech at the Memorial to honor of a friend who had been killed soon after the landings. He laid a wreath.

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John, who is 97 and first voted in a presidential election in 1935, also had a D-Day story to tell, which NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported.

The narrow lanes in Normandy link small villages where the damage has been repaired and only gratitude remains.

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Buildings are restored to former beauty–though the photographs from 70 years ago strategically placed (badges of honor almost) give a “Before and After” idea of the devastation wrought by allied bombing seventy years ago.

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Our journeys through the Normandy countryside are full of surprises.

No fighting troops but troops there are a-plenty–fully kitted out.

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…and driving every conceivable type of vehicle of the era.

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The plucky little guy!

Willys jeeps predominate–the ones we grew familiar with in post war films, usually transporting a cigar-smoking John Wayne or Robert Mitchum at speed.

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Answering a call of nature!?

I had a schoolboy crush on the Willys jeep, seeing myself in the Mitchum role long before I ever imagined I’d be an actor.

These “troops” processing at a more leisurely pace through the tranquil countryside are “re-enactors”, come to Normandy to do just that, re-enact incidents from the past and lend a non-violent “dressing” to the scene.

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Italian re-enactors!

After lunch with Bob “backstage” at the American cemetery on Wednesday, we watch a Belgian company of re-enactors paying tribute to the fallen with a full ceremony–including Taps (the Last Post) in front of the American flag.

They attract a crowd, perhaps providing a focus for people visiting this overwhelmingly emotional place.

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“Backstage” is the area where all the TV companies prepare the technical paraphernalia for the big day.

Meredith feels a touch of déjà-vu….

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Transported momentarily back into a previous life as a TV producer and writer with ABC News in New York.

(She was working freelance for NBC when she interviewed me in January 1986…)

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John Morris being interviewed by NBC TV

John Morris is telling the story he has told a thousand times since 7th June 1944.

He was based in London–Photo Editor of LIFE magazine–waiting anxiously for the first images of the invasion to arrive from the legendary photographer, Robert Capa–who was with the initial wave of American soldiers on Omaha Beach.  

The first three rolls of film were ruined when a darkroom technician tried to speed up the development process–but John managed to find a few frames which remain the defining photos of the American D-day landing.

(The story is best told by him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fzmieOlZy0&feature=channel_video_title/)

The backdrop to the interview is the Wall of Remembrance–dedicated to those Missing in Action.

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This is one of the eleven surviving images.

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John Morris points out in another interview that to take the photo, Robert Capa would have to have been on the beachside of the swimmer with his back to the German guns.

Back home now–time to read further and reflect on the events that unfolded from early morning on 6th June 1944…

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in awe at the bravery of those men wading ashore.

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One of the “Brave”–returned.

 

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Dawn–6 June 2014–close to “Juno” Beach

D Day 6th June 1944/2014

The enormity, the impossibility, the bravery, the awfulness, the wastefulness, the sheer chaos–you can read about it and watch films about it but standing on raised ground on that stretch of coastline in Normandy, is when the full story hits me.

I’m looking out across the wide stretch of the English Channel towards the Hampshire coastline and my mind starts playing with the image like the photographic trick of fading a present day scene into a photo of the same location years before and I catch my breath.

It’s a calm sea this Friday morning and empty, but at dawn on the 6th June seventy years ago it was a heaving mass of naval craft full of men about to put their lives in deadly peril.

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Utah and Omaha beaches ( Colleville-sur-Mer)–American (73,000 men landed)
Gold and Sword (Arromanches and Ouistreham)–British and Free French (61,715)
Juno (Courseulles-sur–Mer)–Canadian (21,400)
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156,115 troops landed on these beaches on the 6th of June 1944.
(Casualty figures are still being revised.)
Above the beach at Colleville is the American cemetery.
There are the crosses and the Stars of David, laid out in perfect symmetry.
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At peace the soldiers honored here find order after chaos.

A sea of white marble contrasts the sea turned red from blood on D-Day 70 years ago.

This morning 6th June 2014 the 9386 fallen heroes buried above Omaha Beach are joined by a multitude of commemorators come to pay our respects and wonder how such a thing could have been endured.

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An inland invasion this time and the crafts conveying the masses are coaches–hundreds of them–escorted from Caen to Colleville-sur-Mer by motorcycle gendarmes.

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There will be ceremonies all along the coast in the days to come on the beaches and in the villages that saw the story unfold.

Some large involving Presidents and Queens and some more modest; many attended by some of the dwindling band of brothers brought together to save the world–70 years ago.

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